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In the story, “The Yellow Wall Paper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a woman tells her story. It is told by a narrator in first person who we do not know the name. She has been diagnosed with a temporary nervous depression. The setting is around the early 1900’s in a colonial mansion that the narrator and her husband have rented. She spends most of her time in her bedroom, writing, where there is also a mysterious wallpaper. In this story, there are many points where I would feel sympathy for the narrator which I will now bring to light.
First of all, back then in Victorian times, the relationship between men and women were very different compared to present time. Today, most women desire equality with their partner. The reader never even learns the name of the narrator, possibly to give the illusion that she could be any woman. On the very first page, Gilman illustrates the male dominating society and relationship. It was normal for men to think that they were the gender who knew when, what, how and why to do things. The narrator’s husband, John is a doctor who’s words and actions reflect the stereotype I previously mentioned: “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage”. This statement illustrates the way gender, at that time, was relevant. This makes me feel pity for the narrator who is oppressed by the circumstances of that time making her illness get worse.
Another factor is that John doesn’t believe that his wife is sick, while she is really suffering from her illness. He neglects to listen to his wife about her thoughts, feelings and health. According to him, there is not anything wrong with his wife except for the temporary illness, which should not be serious. The narrator says that the house “Is quite alone, standing well back from the road”. It is an isolation which John is having her to suffer. By closing her off from the rest of the world, he is taking her away from things that are important to her mental state, such as her ability to read and write, her need for human interaction and to make her own decisions. All of these are important to people. This also makes me feel sympathy towards the narrator who is not given the right to live the way she should.
John treats her like a child and infantilises everything. “The windows are barred” and also when John says “What is it little girl? …Don’t go walking about like that – you’ll get cold.” are both quotes which show this child-like way of treating the narrator. This makes me feel again pity for her because it is as if John was superior to everything and that crying, for a girl in those times, was a sign of weakness.
Throughout the beginning of the story, the narrator tends to follow the idea that men are always right: “It is so hard to talk to John about my case, because he is so wise and because he loves me so.” In a good relationship, each partner should be able to express one’s own thoughts and feelings. In this case though, the narrator feels that she can not tell him what she feels so as not to upset him and make him mad. When the narrator does attempt to have a discussion with John, she ends up crying and not being able to express herself. This shows how at that time, men were supposed to be respected and that women were somehow considered useless. This is very upsetting and irritating, making the reader want to change the story.
This is a few ways that the writer makes me sympathise with the narrator. The period she is living in and especially her husband highly contribute to this. You notice that they are not a really good couple and that John is careless with her.